St. John Chrysostom


Feast:
Western Christianity
13 September
(Repose—transferred from 14 September)

Born:
c. 347
Antioch

Died:
14 September 407
Comana in Pontus

Canonized:
Unknown Date

Patronage:
Constantinople, education, epilepsy, lecturers, orators, preachers


About

Known as “the greatest preacher in the early church”, John’s homilies have been one of his greatest lasting legacies. Chrysostom’s extant homiletical works are vast, including many hundreds of exegetical homilies on both the New Testament (especially the works of Saint Paul) and the Old Testament (particularly on Genesis). Among his extant exegetical works are sixty-seven homilies on Genesis, fifty-nine on the Psalms, ninety on the Gospel of Matthew, eighty-eight on the Gospel of John, and fifty-five on the Acts of the Apostles.

The homilies were written down by the audience and subsequently circulated, revealing a style that tended to be direct and greatly personal, but was also formed by the rhetorical conventions of his time and place. In general, his homiletical theology displays much characteristic of the Antiochian school (i.e., somewhat more literal in interpreting Biblical events), but he also uses a good deal of the allegorical interpretation more associated with the Alexandrian school.

John’s social and religious world was formed by the continuing and pervasive presence of paganism in the life of the city. One of his regular topics was the paganism in the culture of Constantinople, and in his homilies he thunders against popular pagan amusements: the theatre, horse races, and the revelry surrounding holidays. In particular, he criticized Christians for taking part in such activities:

“If you ask (Christians) who is Amos or Obadiah, how many apostles there were or prophets, they stand mute; but if you ask them about the horses or drivers, they answer with more solemnity than sophists or rhetors”.

John’s homilies on Saint Paul’s Epistles proceed linearly, methodically treating the texts verse by verse, often going into great detail. He shows a concern to be understood by laypeople, sometimes offering colorful analogies and practical examples. At other times, he offers extended comments clearly intended to address the theological subtleties of a heretical misreading, or to demonstrate the presence of a deeper theme.

One of the recurring features of John’s homilies is his emphasis on care for the needy. Echoing themes found in the Gospel of Matthew, he calls upon the rich to lay aside materialism in favor of helping the poor, often employing all of his rhetorical skills to shame wealthy people to abandon conspicuous consumption:

“Do you pay such honor to your excrements as to receive them into a silver chamber-pot when another man made in the image of God is perishing in the cold?”